The first thing you notice at a Dangerville show is bassist Delilah DeWylde. Whether she’s in vintage minidresses or a French maid costume and fishnet stockings, her black Bettie Page hairdo and deep red lips warn you she is not to be trifled with. And just wait till she balances on her tilted upright bass, one high-heeled foot planted on the edge of the instrument and one delicate long leg lifted into the air, all the while slapping out a mean walking bass line without ever cracking a smile.
You’d almost laugh at the contrivance of it if she weren’t so convincingly entertaining. The only distraction from my enjoyment of this Grand Rapids-based psychobilly, cowboy-punk, rhythm-happy dance band was the fear they might be living life as hard offstage as they portray themselves doing in their act.
“Danger” — the songwriter, guitarist, and front man who force-feeds the life into this band — isn’t an instantly likable character, what with his angry vocals, copious tattoos, flaming guitar, and black stompin’ boots. But he offers all he’s got on stage, especially from those steel strings, which can tingle like Les Paul’s or grind and groove like Chuck Berry’s.
A hard edge permeates Dangerville’s 2001 CD Necessary Evil, but so does that comic amusement. “Find Me a Woman” bounces along like a two-step beer-drinking song. “Can’t Wait” is flavored by Jack Leaver’s Hawaiian-style pedal steel. “Something Wicked” is sung with a nod to Elvis and toe-tapping George Thorogood lines. And other songs mix Dick Dale surfer guitar with pressurized punk in the style of Shadowy Men from a Shadowy Planet (with Johnny Ominous also on guitar).
If you don’t pay much attention to the lovesick lyrics, the songs feel like an invitation to party. And party they did at the show I saw at Ypsilanti’s Elbow Room. That night Dangerville attracted a rockabilly retro crowd, with boys in sideburns and girls in tight skirts and bobby socks who occasionally twisted hips in pseudojitterbugs to the relentless beat of drummer Lee Harvey Biltwell. (Hey, I just report the names as I get ’em.)
Obviously Dangerville has figured out that characters can help sell a band. But the music delivers too, especially when the group’s stage act ends with a rousing, breakneck rendition of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” And before you leave, keep an eye on Delilah as she twirls that giant bass and picks it up like a guitar, still pounding out a rhythmic strut. You just might find danger looking awfully attractive.
Dangerville returns to the Elbow Room on Saturday, February 15, as part of a four-day “Ladylike Fest.”